All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace: Full Series
January 9, 2017 8:24 AM - All Seasons - Subscribe

A three-part, 2011 BBC miniseries by Adam Curtis, dealing with computers, systems theories, government, finance, the Rwandan genocide, libertarianism and more.

Part 1: Love and Power (Ayn Rand and her influence on the tech industry, Alan Greenspan and Bill Clinton)

Part 2: The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts (the fallacy of the ecosystem)

Part 3: The Monkey in the Machine and the Machine in the Monkey (The postcolonial history of Congo/Zaire and Rwanda, mineral conflicts, Dian Fossey, and the Playstation 2)

Richard Brautigan’s poem, All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace.

Opening credits song Baby Love Child by the Pizzicado Five.

And a Guardian article about the series.
posted by latkes (2 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Wellll... This series inspired many strong feelings for me. First impression was that I had the at this point in my life rare experience of feeling mind-blown at several points. Like, "wait, Alan Greenspan was actually Ayn Rand's BFF/protege?" and "Dian Fossey was deeply entrenched in the colonial tradition, well, that makes sense but fuck". And there are kind of an endless supply of shocking/appalling anecdotes in here. So I think he constructs a pretty compelling narrative out of pretty disparate threads. He must be unbelievably well read and have an excellent memory for stories and history. The way he pulls together different historical personalities, who perhaps wielded more power than history has recorded, well, it's visionary. I'm really glad I saw it.

Buutttt.... there were some weaknesses in his argument that stood out. I really wanted to hear about chaos theory in the second episode. Like, I have no real knowledge of chaos theory as it relates to animal populations but I sort of dimly remember from the Gleick book that animal populations were like a kind of classic application where while their numbers vary significantly each year, they stabilize when examined over long periods? So in other words, while the origins of the concept of ecology may have been bunk, and while the simple idea that there is a very numerically consistent "balance of nature" may also be wrong, the idea that animal and plant populations are mutually interactive and interdependent is still totally accurate and correct, right?

And it was funny to me that the collective pong game, which is to me just a fun story of back when computers were quirky and less poisoned by capitalism, seems like this really ominous event to him. I mean, it is cool that people could collectively control the pong game, and it does say something about human collective effort, but it doesn't seem like a big metaphor for anything. It's more like a big game of oija board than anything else.

I'm in the midst of an Adam Curtis binge right now, so it's a little hard to separate this from his other movies. And ironically, I feel that the best rebuttal I have to this series comes from his short, Oh Dearism. I mean, his conclusion at the end of part three seems to be, nothing helps. So, why make this movie then?
posted by latkes at 9:46 AM on January 9, 2017

I've (rather unsurprisingly) been re-watching his films too. The first thing I'll say is that it's worth looking out interviews, podcasts and other media he has done to get a better picture of his point of view (on which more later).

First of all, I believe that Curtis' big weakness has always been the way in which he constructs a narrative arc out of multiple disconnected stories. The individual stories can be fact-checked and are usually fascinating but I think you'd be hard pressed to say that one individual event led specifically to another. He gets away with that because he's got a great eye for visuals, a great ear for musical cues/soundbites and a lovely BBC voice which pours into your ears like delicious auditory cream.

I should point out that I don't think that this is the case in every film he makes (I hesitate to call them documentaries because they're really "stories" - a point he continually makes himself by referring to himself as a "journalist" rather than "documentarian").

If we're talking about the overarching content of Curtis' own work is I would say that it's a criticism of two things -

1) The architects of power and their constant failed attempts to manage civilisation via a technocratic policy-wonk system of status quo management. He really doesn't like managerialism...


2) The failure of people to form common cause to overcome or challenge this system of power. He really doesn't like the 1960s counterculture that became the cyberutopian movement...

There's so much more content to discuss relating to Curtis' films but since I was re-watching CoTS and not AWObMoLG I should probably re-watch it now so that I'm on the same page...
posted by longbaugh at 2:34 PM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

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